•Ezekiel 33: 7-9 • Romans 13: 8-10 • Matthew 18: 15-20•
Weekly Scripture Readings: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Antoinette was the bookkeeper in an Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. One day Michael, a
confused, struggling twenty year old – entered the school with a gun. He later admitted he should have checked himself into the hospital because he had neglected his medication. Antoinette simply began a conversation with Michael. She spoke to him about her own life saying, “we all go through challenges in life.” She told him how the previous year her husband of twenty-six years left her and she tried to commit suicide. She said to him, “it’s going to be all right sweetie. I love you and I am proud of you.” With kindness and empathy she was able to convince this young man that things can change and hope is possible. She freed him of the burden of doing harm to others. Without violence of any kind he surrendered his gun and himself to the police. I presume you see the connection between this story and today’s gospel.
Every community encounters opinion, divisions, conflicts or personal hurts. Such are rooted in our DNA. Just look at the situations in the Ukraine, Syria, Palestine-Israel and our own families. There was conflict within Matthew’s Jewish-Christian community in Antioch as they struggled to redefine their community apart from Judaism. They borrowed a process from the Jewish community to keep their own community reconciled and strong in Christ. “If your brother (sister) sins against you … ?
First, begin with a conversation, a one to one chat. This takes courage, trust and vulnerability. People do heal hurts and grievances every day by conversation.
Second, If this does not work, then bring in others from the community to mediate. That does not mean they will sort out or resolve the issue. It does mean that someone else might help those involved sort it out themselves by moving beyond the rigidity of “my point of view.”
Third, if this does not bring resolution, then bring the issue to the entire community. This is a reminder that none of us are alone in our struggles and the unbiased opinion of others can help those involved sort things out. This is especially true for people of faith who believe our Lord’s promise, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” We are not on our own!
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” The Risen Christ
assures us he is with us. This mystery we call “church” is not a multinational corporation or hierarchical institution although it too often acts as such. “Church” is “the community of Jesus.” Please remember this! “Church” is this community of people who gather to remember him, to listen to him, to celebrate his spirit among us and to continue his work of proclaiming the emergence of “God’s new reality.”
“Whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Centuries ago the bishops of Rome began appealing to the text from chapter 16 in Matthew’s gospel to justify their claim as Peter’s successors to papal supremacy and infallibility.
The text in today’s gospel balances that claim. In chapter 18 we hear Matthew’s Jesus confer the same power on this community we name “church.” “Whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in heaven.” He says that to us!
The point is that Jesus is the reason and the basis for our being “Church.” There is a deep
wisdom within the church called “the sensus fidelium.” “if two of you agree on earth about
anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” It is the Church, not any individual but the entire community, that the Spirit of Christ inspires and guides. It is our shared responsibility to pay attention and respond to the signs of the times in which we live. In doing so we are guided by the “sensus fidelium” as we continue the Lord’s work of proclaiming the emergence of “God’s new reality” and bringing forth God’s new creation.